US President Barack Obama was dazzled at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on Thursday by a display of revolutionary technological innovations that promoted the idea that the world is a better and healthier place because of the existence of the Jewish state.
The exhibits – presented by companies, academic institutions and even three 16-year-old boys – included an “exoskeleton” that enables paraplegics to stand up and walk; a flexible robotic snake that can extricate people trapped in earthquakes and collapsed buildings; a helmet that can translate a person’s thoughts or facial expressions to actions; and a “waiter robot” to help the disabled that handed out pieces of matza to Obama, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
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Obama, who listened carefully to the presenters’ explanations and asked numerous questions, insisted on being photographed with those who developed – and those who already use – the innovations and repeatedly said, “I’m proud of you. Congratulations!” Peres made his own presentation, introducing Obama to young Israeli Arab and east Jerusalem engineers who benefited from a program he pioneered to find high-level engineering jobs at prestigious companies such as Intel. Peres said that he was inspired to initiate the project that found work for 600 Arab professionals after noting the high unemployment rates among minority college and university graduates, to which Obama responded, “Great idea!” The exoskeleton, called ReWalk and manufactured by ARGO Medical Technologies, was invented by Dr.
Amit Goffer, an alumni of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. A quadriplegic who was inspired to invent the device because of his personal story and experience, Goffer appeared together with IDF veteran Radi Kaiuf and US Army veteran Sgt. Theresa Hannigan – paraplegics who can now stand and walk independently with the patented ReWalk. Hannigan served during the Vietnam era and was left paralyzed two years ago as a result of a progressive autoimmune disease.
“This device is already improving the quality of life for many people, and we look forward to seeing its continued expansion around the world including in the US, where we are awaiting Food and Drug Administration clearance for daily personal use,” Goffer told Obama.
“A couple of years ago, doctors told me I would never walk again, but now thanks to this technology, I am able to do anything from standing up and hugging my family to walking a one-mile road race,” Hannigan said.
Kaiuf added that he was able to participate in a recent 10-kilometer race while wearing it. He said he was pleased to be able to look at healthy people straight in the face.
The ReWalk employs technology with motorized legs that power knee and hip movement and uses subtle changes in center of gravity, mimics natural gait and provides functional walking speed. A forward tilt of the upper body is sensed by the system, which triggers the first step.
The snake robot, developed by Technion mechanical engineering Prof. Alon Wolf, contains a camera in its head and could even be miniaturized to carry out medical procedures.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev presented Brain Network Activation, a technology developed by Dr. Amir Geva that uses a net of sensors placed on the scalp to make it possible to monitor brain activity for diagnosing malfunctions and the development of diseases, as well as assessing efficacy of treatment and rehabilitation from traumatic injury.